World Leaders Just Agreed to Radically Transform our World (but it won’t happen without us)

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The United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York

by Robbi Humble

I recently had the privilege of traveling to New York City to witness first-hand the United Nations summit to adopt the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, or the Global Goals.

Unanimously agreed upon by all 193 member countries of the UN, the 17 Global Goals set an unprecedented collective road map to eradicate poverty, eliminate inequalities, and fix our environment in the next fifteen years for every person, everywhere.

Sitting in the gallery of the UN General Assembly, watching president, after prime minister, after king emerge for three minutes to express their government’s hope for achieving the Global Goals, one thing became abundantly clear to me. It wasn’t just that I was witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime, truly awe-inspiring gathering of global leaders at a pivotal moment in history. But also that any hope for achieving these ambitious goals rests with us, global citizens in our respective countries and communities. And perhaps more importantly, it rests with us, the world’s young people, as we will be the ones enacting this agenda for the next fifteen years and beyond.

Don’t get me wrong, our governments have a crucial, leading role to play. Indeed, an enormous amount of the responsibility should – and does – rest with our political leaders to overcome major barriers to achieving the goals, such as unfair trade partnerships and policies, under-funding of basic services, and violent conflict. National level plans to achieve these universal goals must include bold policies that demonstrate political leadership for shaping our collective future in the direction of the Global Goals – for example championing plans to shift national and local economies towards sustainable production and consumption; creating better jobs and livelihoods for all; and eliminating inequalities within and between borders. Ultimately, it will require unprecedented political leadership to prioritize policies that will transform our societies – locally, nationally, and globally – so that all interactions fully integrate people, planet, prosperity, and peace.

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However these ambitious goals cannot be addressed by governments alone – not because it is not their responsibility, but rather because it is the citizens of the world who hold our governments accountable.

But even more than that, it is the citizens of the world who have innovative, people-centered solutions to our collective challenges. It is the citizens of the world who are demanding and demonstrating more inclusive, community-centred models for a sustainable future. And it is the citizens of the world who work in all types and levels of business and social enterprise delivering better, more sustainable products and services that meet the needs of their local communities. Therefore, initiatives to educate the public about the goals, such as Project Everyone, will be crucial tools in the citizen toolbox for achieving the Goals.

A major challenge is that the Global Goals document is not binding. Because of this, the Goals will not be achieved without political will, citizen ownership, and bold social enterprises working together in partnership to shift our collective worldview, which is revolutionary to say the least. The targets are ambitious, and they won’t be easy. However, the 17 Global Goals and 169 targets do give us a collective roadmap of priorities that can be, and must be, achieved within my lifetime, as well as a common language for citizens, government, and businesses to strengthen our partnerships for achieving them.


Government , civil society, and business discussing how to deliver
a revitalized global partnership for achieving the goals

In the face of this ambitious challenge, many will ask, “but what can I do?” The answer here is not new – everyone has a role to play, and our roles depend on our individual strengths, skills, lived experience, and position in our local and global communities. While the challenge can seem daunting, the good news is that the Goals connect with one another and reinforce one another. The good news is that citizens are policy makers, and policy makers are institutions; that institutions are communities, and communities are economies. The good news is that we have always lived at the connections between the individual and the collective, the crossroads at which these Global Goals will be achieved.

What is new, is that these goals are for everyone, everywhere. Because of that, it is even more clear that we all have a role to play.

But, I believe it is important to recognize that our role changes; depending on the goal, I will be involved in achieving it as a leader, an ally, a champion, or a watchdog. I will be a supporter for my marginalized allies in their visions to achieve equal access to justice, better education, appropriate technology, and good health. I will be a leader in my workplace and sector in connecting different groups to explore Goal #17 – Partnerships for the Goals. I will be a watchdog for my elected representatives in ensuring progress on Goal #13 – Climate Action. And I will be a champion in achieving Goal #12 – Responsible Production and Consumption, by taking ownership of my personal consumption choices and supporting companies in my community and around the globe that innovate to prioritize sustainable production.

The Global Goals signify an important shift from thinking of complex global challenges as “we must get there, but how?” to “we will get there together. Now let’s get to work.” It reaffirms what we at SCIC and our members and partners already know: that individually, we cannot do everything – that a brighter future for all is achieved when we combine our individual experiences, strengths, knowledge and resources to contribute to the larger picture. The Global Goals are a new toolbox that can bring everyone on board, and help us all to find our place in the collective project that is humanity.


Sharing struggles and strategies among civil society groups – PIANGO‘s Emele Duituturaga from
Fiji discussing climate change and international negotiations with Canadian Youth Delegates

So, the question becomes, what do we do now? Engaging our young people in the conversation early will continue to be key, so that our imaginative, bold, and innovative ideas can be central to the plans for our future. So will holding our governments and policy-makers accountable as navigators on the road to improve the lives of everyone, everywhere, and ensuring the resilience of our common home. We must continue to join with those who are leading by example to create the world we want, while at the same time shouting from the rooftops to call attention to our shortcomings. And we must always be listening to our grassroots, to those who are most impacted by the persistent inequalities and injustices in our world. Above everything, we must always remember that our responsibilities come from one another, and extend to one another, within and across borders.

The Global Goals are here, and they are ours. By re-framing the conversation towards a concrete vision of the world we want, these Goals are a toolkit for governments, citizens, and private enterprises to work together to achieve it. We have already started to achieve them together; now it’s time to connect our collective strengths and build upon the good work already being done.

So, how will you take your favourite goal and be a part of a collective vision for achieving it? How will you encourage your family, community, workplace, and governments in finding their role, and learn from those who are most impacted? Make a personal to-do list, because we’re getting there together, so now it’s time to get to work.

Learn more about the Global Goals here.

Robbi Humble is SCIC’s Communications Officer. She recently traveled to the UN Summit as a member of a Youth Delegation organized by the Inter-Council Network of Provincial and Regional Councils, along with 7 other delegates from all across Canada. Robbi is also a member of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation’s Emerging Leaders Network. You can read more reflections from another Youth Delegate on BCCIC’s website, here.